The opinions which we believe and are right, are called “true opinions”. According to Plato’s dialogue from The Meno, when true opinions remain stable they can serve equally as well as knowledge until people forget their opinion or change their mind some time later. Knowledge is “tied down” by giving the reasons why it is so. Opinions, even if beautiful, can “escape from a man’s mind” without justification. Moreover, opinions lead less reliability compare with knowledge (Gendler, Siegel & Cahn, 2008, P344).
Therefore, people should prefer knowledge to opinion since the former is more correct and lasts longer. Opinion functions as well as knowledge when the opinion is right or true. For instance, a person who does not know how to turn on the computer eventually turns it on by pressing buttons randomly. Thus, true opinion and knowledge work the same at this point. However, this true opinion may not be replicable or reliable over time. For this, the person would need the knowledge that computer start buttons contain a certain logo. Plato argues that knowledge is superior to true opinion.
He says that true opinions are not willing to remain long, and they are not worth much, until one ties them down by giving an account of the reason why they are correct (Gendler, Siegel & Cahn, 2008, P344). We can see that mere true opinion is not stable, and it can be fleeting. For example, we see the moon, and may first think that the moon shines by itself if we do not have any knowledge about this. The next day, if we do not see any moonlight, we may think that the moon does not shine by itself. Although the latter idea is correct, and could serve as well as knowledge for a time, our opinion can change unpredictably.
On the other hand, if we have knowledge that the moon reflects sunlight, we understand that the moon does not shine by itself. Knowledge gives more consistency and predictablily than true opinion. Furthermore, opinions are weak because they can be influenced by feelings, and emotions can occur at any time, anywhere. For example, if I am in a good mood on a sunny day, I think my cat is cute when it is running around. If it rains the next day, the weather makes me annoyed, and I think my cat is naughty when it is running around.
In this example, the opinion that my cat is naughty has no justification because the cat did not change its behavior to make it naughty. With justification and knowledge, people can develop civilization and improve their quality of life in areas such as space exploration, transportation, education and medicine. For example, without a foundation of reliable knowledge, we could not develop safe medicine or safe airplanes; the risk and expense of basing our lives on true opinion is too great, because it has not been justified.
Plato has defined knowledge as having three components: truth, belief and justification. First, it must be accurate and we must believe it. For example, when we say this coffee is hot, it must be hot, and we must believe it is hot. Second, by justification, Plato means that we must have reasons explaining why it is correct and prove our idea. If not, it is an opinion rather than knowledge. However, if we can prove our opinion, it becomes knowledge. For instance, recent news said that an Italian experiment had unveiled proof that fundamental particles known as neutrinos can travel faster than light.
As we know, in the past people thought the speed of light was the fastest. After the experiment had been conducted and evidenced the result, this new information led people to correct their old opinion because they had better justification. When we find out that our old idea is wrong and have a new idea with justification, the old idea no longer has justification. This is the reason why truth, belief and justification have to be involved in knowledge. In Plato’s view, true opinions function as knowledge only when people understand the reason behind the truth or have evidence of it.
For example, if my sister holds a cup of coffee and walks into classroom, her classmates will probably think that the coffee belongs to her. This would be a true opinion if I had bought the coffee for her. On the other hand, people who had seen me buying the coffee for my sister would regard this information as knowledge. In sum, true opinion contains truth and belief, but it does not have justification. Plato illustrates this idea with the image of Daedalus’s statue. Daedalus is a skillful craftsman and artisan.
His statues were so realistic that people thought it could run away. Therefore, Plato mentions the statue as a metaphor for true opinion which will be forgotten by people over time. “To acquire an untied work of Daedalus is not worth much, like acquiring a runaway slave, for it does not remain, but it is worth much if tied down, for his works are very beautiful (Gendler, Siegel & Cahn, 2008). ” The tied-down statue symbolizes knowledge, and the ropes are the reasons why, the justification. This metaphor perfectly shows the relationship between opinion and knowledge.
Through reading Plato and his teacher Socrates’ dialogue, I understand the differences between opinion, true opinion and knowledge. I also found out why knowledge is more important than true opinion. Opinion will not be valid all the time. In contrast, knowledge is more stable because it contains justification, and therefore, is superior to true opinion. Plato’s basic definition of knowledge and its three parts provides a clear basis for further philosophical discussion, such as what is accepted as logical and solid justification.